When Ma finally replied to what had been asked, she said, as though still recovering from a traumatic upset, 'No, no, the solicitor, my Trustee, will open a separate account in the Catholic Development Fund to deposit the proceeds from the sale of the house.' For a long while, every time Ma uttered the word 'Catholic', I had had an urge to tell her what I thought of her devotion; I had an urge to tell her that she need look no further than this devotion to find every problem she ever faced. And now, to add to what I had been subjected to throughout the previous twenty four years, if the Tin House was to be sold, then the Catholics would be paying my rent! And not much rent at that, as the Catholics paid 3 percent as opposed to an achievable 4.67 percent if the proceeds to come from the Tin House were deposited in the bank. Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!
It was only in noting Ma's reaction I concluded she had already given the bulk of her estate to the Church, as what else would explain the apparent disappearance of an amount which I believed included the three hundred she would be getting for Dad? But when would this deed have been achieved? The most likely time would have been in 2006, the year Dad died as Ma at that time suffered a mini stroke. Had she considered it wouldn't be long before she followed him? Whenever it was the religion Ma had put so much store by appeared to be viewed by her as in more need than any of her children. But, Ma being Ma, maybe there was a double up here too? Maybe in giving the bulk of her estate to the Church was seen by her as purchasing one final insurance policy; this one to give those children she had mourned for long ago the best chance they stood of joining her in heaven?
Although now devastated in understanding that Ma had already done the unthinkable, it was in her now being so frail, that rather than blame her, I blamed the Church for accepting such a large material gift from someone who was clearly unwell. No doubt the Church covered such actions legally, but what of morally? Surely rather than adopt a code of secrecy when doddery old ladies hand over large amounts, Ma's interests would have been better served in being reminded that charity begins at home? Maybe then, instead of the last years of her life being spent in confusion and guilt, she would have been rendered more capable of taking care of Eamonn herself?
The day after asking Ma whether the proceeds to come from the sale of the Tin House were to go into an account other than the one in which Eamonn was to be provided the interest on her savings for his lifetime, I said to her: 'Don't you dare die, as it's looking as if there will be quite a bit for me to sort out if you do. What, for instance, is to happen with that Line of Credit? Ma just laughed and replied: 'You make me feel very important. Celli will just have to repay it.' True to the way she had always been, Ma was optimistic to a fault; the fault in this case being, that the payments required on that Line of Credit, were just expected to materialise. Had Celli been repaying her debt since the time she left, or even if I could see the day dawning when she would be in a position to be able to afford anything, there would have been less need for concern. But unfortunately neither was the case.
In it appearing that should Ma die she would be leaving behind even more mess than created during her life, it was in considering what might occur if I should die before she did which helped me see how much worse things could become. Ma's latest Will may well have ruled her children out of receiving anything whilst I was alive, but if I died before she did, a very real danger existed of the Church being given the Tin House for its lifetime! Ouch!
At the time I had driven Ma to the bank in order that the interest on the Line of Credit be automatically paid from her pension account, I was quite removed from any arrangement made with Celli. I had given as much thought to this appointment with the bank as I had to the one made not long after, to increase this Line of Credit to the whole amount Celli owed. Even though I had been present when Celli took the personal agreement, detailing the extra amount she had been loaned from the safe, I didn't consider this to be any of my business.
Almost two years later, however, in it being assumed the Church was already in possession of what would not only have made up for what I had paid against that loan but also see the futures of Ma's other children who were without, be made more secure, I was thinking along other lines entirely.
It just wasn't good enough for Ma to put in her Will that the Line of Credit was to be repaid from Celli's share of the estate when, Celli, like every other benefactor of the Tin House wouldn't be receiving anything until after my death! Even if I died tomorrow, considering this Line of Credit was for a larger amount than anything Celli could expect to receive from the estate, how had Ma imagined that Celli would feel it worth her while to repay this debt? It would appear the only straightforward financial dealing Ma had ever been involved in was to just simply give away her accumulating funds to the Church. Or had she attempted to throw a complication in here also? In this, had Ma harangued the Church's offices to such an extent that in order to get their hands on her largess there was little option but to assure her that Eamonn would be looked after? It may well be that in suggesting any such duplicity I am way off the mark. But then what else but guesswork am I left with when the Church adopts a code of secrecy with any funds secured?
One of the good things about living in the Tin House was the deep sleeps the sea air induced. I may have been woken at the crack of dawn each morning as Ma filled her collection of buckets from the water tanks at the back of the house, to then listen as her slippers dragged to and fro along back path, but would soon return to the land of dreams. Ma believed in hand watering and would only use the hose during drought conditions. Hardly a morning went by when she wouldn't be up at sunrise watering her beloved plants. Hardly a morning went by when after an hour or so spent in the garden, she would make her own breakfast before returning to her bed. Some mornings Ma had a little more energy than others and it would be on these mornings when I would hear her tap tapping away as painted sheets of cardboard were nailed into place. It would be on these mornings when, after going downstairs, there would be a little surprise waiting for me! When mid-creation Ma ran out of energy, if only to ensure what she was about would be easily removable, l would finish off what she'd started.
In waking usually around nine, after visiting the bathroom, my next port of call was always Ma's small bedroom. Down the stairs I would go looking forward to finishing the crossword she had started, or in at least trying to, more like! After her early morning chores in the garden had been seen to, Ma would collect the newspaper from beyond the gate where it had been thrown before even she was awake. Once back in bed, Ma would tackle the crossword, make a diary entry and glance through a couple of catalogues to choose her next unnecessary purchase. Most mornings she would have a couple of envelopes for me to post. Sometimes these envelopes were addressed to the editor of a newspaper or addressed to one of the charities she supported. These charities were not necessarily under the Catholic umbrella of the 'Missionaries,' the 'Brown Nuns' or the 'Retired Priests' Fund' - as Ma also supported bone fid nondenominational charities. In fact when the phone rang and it was someone looking for a donation, Ma would never shy away from these calls and simply ask, ''How much do you want love?'' It was in fact due to the frequency of Ma's generosity to every charity going that she eventually opened a bank account created for the sole purpose of ensuring her books balanced in this regard also!
Ma's small bedroom was the only room now in the house which had been decorated completely to her taste. Even though this room was the old laundry with the adjacent bathroom now serving as her en suite and the area of the bedroom not big enough to swing a cat, in all seriousness, she cut out the picture of a ballroom in a French Palace from a magazine and, in showing this picture to me, asked if I could make her bedroom look like that! To begin with, I thought she was joking but as she went on to explain how it could be done, I realized she wasn't!
So began the process of following Ma's instructions by pasting fancy wallpaper on the bottom half of green painted walls and cutting strips of this wallpaper to make a border closer to the ceiling. Any mirror was painted gold and all saving the chandeliers in her picture being installed, was due to even Ma acknowledging that doing such would blocked the view of her television which, for lack of floor space, had been installed on a high corner shelf. When Ma returned from hospital, the bed purchased according to the instructions issued by the OT at the hospital and two small chests of drawers were considered to be as much as this bedroom could hold. But not so the way Ma saw it! Before I was given the task of recreating a French ballroom in a once laundry, Ma had already arranged for a tiny annex to be built onto her bedroom to create space for a wardrobe and to have four inches chopped off the bed in order that it fit against the short wall. Ma always thought ahead, and in this instance, although the bed purchased for her comfort now resembled 'a hobbit bed,' there was now more room for the bits and pieces, which for whatever reason, she needed to be surrounded by. Decorating this tiny area amid wall to wall trappings wasn't the easiest chore I ever took on, but I had time on my hands, and just so long as no one considered how Ma's bedroom now presented was my idea, I didn't really mind what it ended up looking like.
It was one morning only a few days after me telling Ma not to dare die, that in entering her tiny bedroom, as she appeared to be nodding off, I went into the kitchen to make my breakfast. In it often being the case that Ma would be tired after a couple of hours spent in the garden, there was nothing unusual about finding her this way and I would wait till later to collect the crossword. On this occasion Ma seemed to have dozed off whilst thinking what to write in her diary. Although her eyes were closed, she appeared to be looking down to where the pen in her right hand moved aimlessly across an empty page.. It was really only in noting her left arm hanging over the side of the bed that told me she was more asleep than awake, and it was only in leaving her side to go into the kitchen to make my breakfast that I realized what didn't fit with the scene just witnessed.
As it dawned on me that Ma wasn't wearing her glasses, I raced back into her bedroom. At first I pottered about for a bit to see if the odd little noise would wake her. Nothing! It was in finding her left arm limp as I laid it across her chest that I called an ambulance and for the twenty minutes the ambulance took, I kept repeating; 'How dare you die.' Ma had experienced a couple of spells over the two years I was caring for her. On neither of these occasions had I been there. For the first year of my reign with Ma, one day a week had been spent down in Sydney taking care of my two grandchildren. In Ma not being so bad then, it was only a question of leaving her meals in the fridge until I returned the following day. It had been during these short stays away that Ma experienced the two spells I would hear about afterwards. Her first near miss was in suddenly finding she had no brake to stop moving backwards. On this occasion, had it not been for the positioning of a fence which was directly behind her, she would have just kept going to take whatever came. The second spell was due to Ma being irresponsible. Or did she have a death wish? Feeling more energetic than she had in a while, this new found energy was used to bring in the garbage bins. This was totally unnecessary, considering her good neighbours usually saw to this chore for her. Had Ma first pushed one garbage bin up the drive and then gone back for the other, she would have been in far less danger of losing her balance. She would have been far less likely to fall and hit her head on the concrete driveway. Had Ma not attempted to push both garbage bins up the driveway at once, her back may not have been wrecked further by pulling herself to her feet with the aid of the gatepost and the weeks of agony to follow might have been avoided.
When the ambulance crew of two arrived on this occasion, the comment made by the male officer upon entering where Ma lay on her hobbit bed was; 'A bit cramped in here'. Ouch. I felt so responsible. This ambulance officer then leant over Ma asking could she hear him. At this her eyes suddenly shot open as she yelled, 'Who are you?' This cry was followed by, 'Sumpta' as if she needed to be rescued.
In Ma finding herself being wheeled off down the drive on a mobile bed, I tried to allay the confused expression on her face by explaining she had suffered a stroke, but she appeared to have no comprehension as to what I was talking about. Not until later in the day when I arrived at the hospital did she understand that this recent turn was more serious than those going before.
It soon became clear that calling an ambulance was not going to deliver any benefit to Ma. From the day she arrived at the hospital until a month later when she left, there would be no saving her. Over that month she basically went further downhill. In not being able to swallow properly, she was eating and drinking very little and yet if what she was served wasn't consumed it was just whisked away. The demographics of the area where the Tin House was located had once again shown that beyond a certain age, the medical system was in too much overload to do anything about altering nature. Nothing was said about Ma's chances. Anything gleaned of her condition over that month was that she had a large blood clot on the brain and to operate would have been too risky. She asked me one day if I thought she was going to die? I told her I didn't. It was the way in which this question was asked, so matter-of-factly, that made it appear as if death to Ma was just the next step she might need to take. Maybe Ma had been prepared for taking this step since as far back as 2006 when shortly after dad died, in her body not operating properly she had suspected a mini stroke? Maybe each of the seven years to follow brought with them disappointment in finding she was still here? Maybe this disappointment had been exacerbated by having made her move too early in giving what she had to the Church? Maybe this would explain the only detrimental comment Ma ever made about the Church, in stating a few months before, 'They are only interested in money?'
It had been Ma's desire to come home from the moment she arrived in the hospital. A month on her wish would be seen to. It just so happened, that brother Marcus had a garage full of the latest hospital equipment which he was only too happy to supply and deliver. The only snag really was that the hospital staff were pulling in the opposite direction and dissuading me from taking Ma home. The reason for this opposition was never spelt out, but I gathered it had something to do with not being eligible for palliative care. I was seen by a social worker who reinforced the difficulties I would be faced with. I told the social worker that even if Ma died an hour after arriving home, that hour to her would be of more value than weeks spent dying in hospital, and that I would get some nutrition into her even if it needed to be fed her on a teaspoon. A chance anyhow had now finally presented for me to discover if my anti Catholic sentiments were unfounded; here was a chance to confirm that other than her largess being targeted, nothing to help the like of Ma existed within the Church's system. I asked the social worker, 'Does Catholic Care offer palliative care? I mean it is registered as one of the Church's charities!' 'Well', the social worker said, 'Let's just put it this way, Catholic Care is a business.' Just as I thought!
Ma was skeletal, severely dehydrated and pale as a ghost when she arrived back in an ambulance. Clearly pleased to be home though, she was giggling away as the ambulance crew lifted her onto the high tech hospital bed provided by Marcus. Had I not been fortunate enough the previous week to have had an unexpected call from Gerard and Susan's youngest son who just happened to be a physiotherapist and had this son not insisted on helping out, Ma was in such a bad state I really don't know how I would have managed. The nephew I was glad to have arrived on the day Ma was expected back and would be there also for the last five days of her life. A couple of days later we were joined by Gerard and Susan and their older son. This older son, a banker, with a phobia of hospitals, would prove to be another unexpected help, as he not only itemised the timing of every medical application required in Ma's case, but also, administered Ma's last 3am intravenous dose of morphine without any assistance from his brother. Not that it was spelt out, but because of taking Ma home against the hospitals advice no palliative care would be provided, in this there was a stroke of luck also. The doctor to whom Ma had argued the case, that it was her brain not her heart there was something wrong with, came to the fore to issue the required morphine when Ma's condition took a drastic turn for the worse, and was also available as required until Ma passed away.
Celli hadn't been seen in the seventeen months since she took off after making Ma so angry she threatened to slap her; to now just bowl back as though there was nothing to answer for. In finding Gerard and family in situ, although coughing over Ma as though the seventeen months since she'd last been seen had been spent breathing in asbestos dust, Celli hid her resentment toward Gerard's wife Susan and concentrated on entertaining Ma by informing her, between coughs, of what was happening on the Bold and Beautiful. It had always struck me as strange that a woman of Ma's intellect watched this show, but she appeared to love it just as much as Celli which, apart from the two of them also sharing the same ability as Michael to forget anything in the past too uncomfortable to remember was, so far as I could see anyway, as much as the two of them held in common. In fact Ma was so involved with what was going on in the Bold and Beautiful that during the last days of her life she would look out at the garden and say, 'I want to die in the garden like Stephanie did', when I didn't know what she was talking about.
It didn't take long for Celli's grievance against Susan to show its head. Gerard after all, once belonged to her. For God's sake who did Susan think she was to steal her favourite brother! Who did Susan think she was not to allow her dogs into Ma's sick room when she'd promised not put them on the bed? Whose mother was this anyway?
Ma's parting words were, 'May God help Sumpta.'
In checking the contents of the safe, missing from what was in there seventeen months before, was the share certificate I had given to Ma to cover the cheque she collected at the bank in exchange for the notes once under the fridge. The certificate handed to Celli by the volunteer from the St. Vincent De Paul Society, thanking Ma for the tenth share of the house they were to receive upon her death, had also disappeared. Gone too was the letter addressed to me containing Ma's simplistic version of previous events with the last two lines stating that the funds sent to Celli to purchase her land so as this land could be given to the Church, were to be considered by me as donated to charity. As all of any relevance to me was the letter I had been in fear of never seeing again, it was thought that maybe God had given me the foresight to have a copy made. It was thought that maybe God had been helping me two years before Ma asked Him to? After all, why wouldn't God know I needed help when this letter was all now in existence to serve as testament to how one of His greatest supporters went about things?
There were instructions in the safe that her Will was to be taken to, John Riley, her Trustee. Apart from the embarrassment of sharing the contents of this Will with anybody, I wondered how it ever came to be that this last stab of Ma's to complicate anything she touched, had ever been legally allowed to see the light of day? In the Church being an organisation supported more by wealth than patronage, why did Ma believe, when it had already been shown that Eamonn would be on his own should anything happen to her, consider that her worldly shackles would serve a more worthwhile purpose in bolstering the Church's coffers further? Why had Ma, rather than attend to what needed to be attended to, left the Tin House to me for my lifetime with only a few scrappy savings deposited in the CDF, of which Eamonn was to receive the interest on for his lifetime? Why was this house to be carved up eleven ways after my death, for the Church to receive one share more than any of her children did? Apart from Patsy, be it that Patsy in Ma's last Will was now bequeathed 'shares' rather than 'insurance policies' and that this move was representative of doubling that which Patsy was to previously receive, it is hoped that this increase affords Patsy the necessary to upgrade to business class on her next trip overseas. But, flippancy aside, it can also be hoped Patsy realises that only she, out of the other eight children Ma would be leaving behind, had been gifted anything outright.
As Ma's last Will stood, it would only be when I died that, on top of the interest allowing a couple of packs of cigarettes a month, Eamonn would also receive his share of the house; not outright; well of course not!, but by way of interest that the CDF would provide once in receipt of the deposit. Eamonn's share of the house was one of the two shares bequeathed to the Church, one of these shares to be received by way of the St Vincent De Paul Society from the sale of the house when I died, and the other was to the support retired priests should Eamonn outlive me! And then, there was of course the stipulation that should the house be sold that the amount it fetched, be deposited in the CDF to afford me somewhere to rent for my lifetime! In this Will, no provision had been made for what I had outlaid on the renovations, but then why should there be when Ma was never told how much this had cost me? In the scant provision made for Eamonn in Ma's Will, apart from it being evident that this was because she believed the Church would be looking after him, her Will appeared otherwise geared toward hedging her bets. Eamonn may well have been six years my junior but, given his situation, what were the chances he would outlive me? What were the chances, given that Ma knew full well I had nothing left after paying for the renovations, that in now being a pensioner as per her wishes, I would be in any position to repay the Line of Credit hanging over the house after she'd gone? In this instance, should the house need to be sold, as I would then be beholding to the CDF to provide the rent required to find somewhere to live, in essence, unless I died before Eamonn did, he would never receive the extra interest on his share of the house and would just need to make do with a couple of packs of cigarettes a month.
Before taking this Will to Ma's new solicitor, it was in glancing through it, that further accent was placed on inherited traits. The realization arrived at in my summery of, what so far as I could ascertain amounted to no more than a conscience appeaser, this latest Will of Ma's was figured by me as not far removed to the one her father left. Not that it was ever known what the Will her father left contained as Ma never read it and flew off like a frightened bird at the suggestion of losing the roof from over her head if the Marriage Settlement her father had entered into was challenged, it was just that in both cases, at the end of each of their days, they had already committed to another cause before attempting to mend past mistakes. As for Ma's propensity to double up at any given opportunity, well, I guess so far as her parents went, she wasn't left with a leg of her own to stand on. Sometimes happens, I'm sure! In reading the contents of Ma's last Will, it also occurred to me that if I died tomorrow, the Church would receive a two part share of the funds I outlaid on the renovations. Ouch! A million times over.
I ask at this point, whether it would be considered as any wonder that I should feel a sense of apprehension in taking this Will to Ma's solicitor, John Riley in order that this piece of unfathomable gobbledygook be matched up with the original copy? Would I be justified in thinking that John Riley should have given Ma some indication of what might come from such a presentation? Did the fault lie with me for not wanting to know what Ma's latest Will contained? But then in my defence, Ma did leave it a little late in the day before asking me if I wanted to see the Will. Not that it would have made any difference had she done so sooner, as when all's said and done on the subject of any Will Ma left, during my time with her, I was only ever interested in what was missing from her mail box.
So far as Ma's last Will was concerned, when Eamonn died, it would be up to the Church to decide whether to leave his share of her estate in the CDF or transfer it to the Commonwealth Bank where their account is held in order to gain a larger rate of interest than achievable in the CDF.
Had I been working in the Catholic offices and it had been my job to do the banking, I would have known that the Commonwealth was the bank of choice. But, as it happened, I only discovered that the Catholic's banked Commonwealth when embarking upon the most reasonable desire stipulated in Ma's Will. When the renovations to the Tin House were taking place, the little grave where half of Dad's ashes were buried was, by a whisker, missed when the old deck was ripped down. It was for reasons of practicality that afterwards, Celli retrieved the small marble casket from the polystyrene fruit box in order to recreate this little grave out back. Ma never said anything in regards to the change in placement of where half of Dad's ashes lay and yet, in her Will, had stipulated that both her and Dad's ashes were to be interned on sacred ground. It was when the appropriate arrangements were made in accordance with this wish that the church' s organiser gave me the wrong account number into which the expected payment for this internment was to be made; an account number which couldn't be accessed by the teller; an account number to which maybe only God held the pin number? In my getting back to the organiser and jokingly saying, 'Maybe you forgot to give me the secret code?' that this organiser replied, 'Well, yes, something like that!' A month later, when the two little plaques made of brass were ready, one plaque inscribed with the words, 'In another hundred years not another word will be said about me' and the other inscribed with the words, 'life in this world is in preparation for the next'
All eight children were notified that the internment of both parents ashes would be taking place, two weeks hence, in the grounds of the same church were both funerals had been held. It occurred to me that the best way of assuring there would be a good attendance, was to send an anonymous invitation. On the day, in not having heard from anyone other than Celli who had earlier been sending text messages to me threatening to tell Ma's friends and the parish priest that I had deliberately excluded her from the internment of her parents ashes and Gerard and Susan who, wanted to come but didn't wish to ruin the occasion by the adverse reception they might receive from Celli, I didn't know what to expect. So, there I was, at the church, relieved at least to find two of Ma's friends there, but ill prepared to find that the most reasonable request made in Ma's Will was to see only one of her children standing beside two small holes before the ashes of each parent were laid to rest. As with half of Dad's ashes, Ma's too, were to be taken back to Ireland, this time around, by Gerard and Susan.
In visiting John Riley, the solicitor, to deliver the Death Certificate and to also discuss the contents of the Will I would have preferred to be distanced from, how was my objection to what Ma's Will contained going to be taken seriously when I was closely related to the inventor of such Tommy Rot? Of not much help in this regard, was that just as soon as I was seated at the opposite end of a large desk where Riley sat, that the solicitor Ma had made her Trustee (and I'm sure here that the Irish ring to his name was why he was chosen in the first place), began reading out the contents of Ma's last Will as though it all made perfect sense. It was only when I made mention that the Catholic Church was involved in the disappearance of funds which, due to past dealings with Ma, weren't considered by me to be hers to give away and that I didn't know how to go about retrieving these funds, that this solicitor said; ''Well, we could write to them; the Catholic Church has enough''. When this was said, it was thought that I had been listened to; that this solicitor genuinely intended to write to the Church in an effort to locate Ma's missing funds. It was only as the months rolled by with no notification of any progress in this direction that I realized I was rather being humoured; that this solicitor was on some other bent to that of my own.
My quest to be taken seriously by this solicitor was probably not helped by Celli, a week after my visit, letting herself into the house in my absence and taking all of Ma's diaries. Beforehand I had been going through these, to ascertain what Ma's state of health had been in the years leading up to her leaving her life savings to the Church, rather than attend to the needs of those she would be leaving behind. In this latest effort to discover where on earth Ma was coming from, I placed a mark beside anything to do with her heath issues as well as anything considered poignant to what I had been writing about. In Celli taking the diaries, it can only be hoped that any mark placed against Celli's name, would be seen by Celli to corroborate why I believed Celli had ended up so bitter and twisted. Irrespective though, of my reason for scanning through Ma's diaries, their disappearance amounted, at best, to robbing what Ma had left for posterity, John Riley, the solicitor, needed to be informed of the theft. And it was in Celli responding to Ma's Trustee with a tirade to damage any credibility it had been hoped I had managed secure with him, which leaves me to this day, never knowing if it was because of Celli's input that the letter to the Church was never sent by this solicitor, or if Ma's Trustee, never had any intention of doing so in the first place.
TO BE CONTINUED